Panasonic have been first out of the gates with their new line-up this year and in terms of their plasma models the results have been incredibly impressive. Aside from the larger size, which is always a good thing in our book, the P55VT50B shares exactly the same specifications as its smaller sibling with a new G15 NeoPlasma Panel, 2,500Hz Focused Field Drive, dual core processor and 24,576 shades of gradation. It also has the same comprehensive set of calibration controls, 3D capability, THX certification and an impressive array of connections, all wrapped up in an attractive design. Finally there's also the Infinite Black Ultra filter, two pairs of RF active shutter glasses and the touch pad remote control. Whilst that all sounds very impressive on paper, let's see if Panasonic's current run of form continues...
Styling and Design
The back plate is made of black metal and the whole display has the well engineered and solid finish that we have come to expect from Panasonic. We didn't hear any buzz when watching the P55VT50B, even with the sound off but it does use fans for cooling and these could be heard if you held your head close to the panel. However you couldn't hear the fans when sat at a normal viewing distance and certainly not when the sound was on. The P55VT50B weighs 32kg without its stand and there are the standard fixing points for wall mounting. The stand itself is square in shape, with a two-tone gunmetal grey to silver finish and a silver trim and when mounted the P55VT50B appears to be floating above it, which is a nice effect. The overall design of the P55VT50B is both contemporary and tasteful, with a solid build quality that gives you the feeling you have bought a high quality product.
To accommodate the new sleek proportions, the rear connections are downwards and sideways facing, to make wall mounting easier and inputs for legacy connections use supplied adapters. The AV2 connection doubles up for component and composite video and the AV selection menu lets you manually select which type of signal is being sent, whilst the AV1 input is exclusively for SCART sources. The connections for these breakout adaptors are facing downwards, along with the aerial and satellite inputs, an optical digital out and a LAN socket for those without a wireless network. Facing sideways we have four HDMI inputs of which HDMI 2 is marked as the Audio Return Channel (ARC) but will only take Stereo back to your AV receiver from anything other than the internal tuner. Also facing sideways there are three USB sockets, with USB 1 designated for HDD recording, a headphone socket, a SD card slot and a Common Interface (CI) slot. All in all a very comprehensive set of connections and our only comment would be that the absence of a RS232 serial connector might cause problems for custom installers and the HDMI inputs are just 9cm from the edge, which is far too close. Still at least the P55VT50B uses a detachable three pin plug with a right angled connector to aid in wall mounting.
The P55VT50B ships with two pairs of Panasonic's new RF 3D glasses and although the included glasses use batteries, there is also a rechargeable version that can be bought separately. These new glasses use RF (radio frequency) rather than IR (infra-red) to sync with the TV and we never had any problems syncing to the P55VT50B and we never lost the connection once. The new glasses are incredibly light - at 26g - and so comfortable to wear that you quickly forget you've got them on. The glasses themselves have quite large lenses that fit over regular glasses, provide a suitably wide field of view and are very neutral in tint. There is a switch at the top of the frames above the bridge of the nose where you turn on the glasses, they sync automatically and will switch off if they don't receive a sync signal for 5 minutes.
Menus and Set Up
The Sound sub-menu has three modes - Speech, Music and User - and allows control over various aspects of the display’s built-in sound including the bass, treble and balance, as well as the headphone volume control. If you select User mode, there is an Equaliser and there are also controls for the Surround mode, the Auto Gain, the Volume Correction and for setting the distance from the speakers to the wall. There is a control for Audio Description for use with the Freesat and Freeview tuners and you can elect to turn on or off NICAM, whilst the SPDIF selection allows for either sound to be sent as PCM or decoded to Dolby Digital Bitstream. There are also controls for setting the Voice Guidance for the visually impaired. Given how thin the P55VT50B is, we weren't expecting the sound to be great but thanks to Panasonic's new 8 train speakers it was at least passable. It was certainly good enough for basic television watching but for anything more critical we strongly recommend using a sound bar or, better still, connecting to an AV amplifier.
The next sub-menu is new for Panasonic's 2012 TVs and allows the user to setup the Network. The inclusion of this menu obviously reflects the addition of built-in WiFi and it allows the user access to Connection Test, Network Connection, Wireless Network Settings, IP/DNS Settings, Network Link Settings, Software Update, New Software Message and Network Status. Next there is the Timer sub-menu where the user has access to the controls for the Timer Programming, Off Timer and Auto Standby. There is so little in this menu that you wonder why Panasonic just didn't include it in the Setup sub-menu and thus keep the menu system less cluttered.
Within the Setup sub-menu itself there are controls for the TV Guide Settings, Eco Navigation, Recording Setup, Bluetooth Setup, Link Settings, Child Lock, Freesat Tuning Menu, DVB Tuning Menu, Display Settings, DivX VOD, System Menu and Other Settings (power settings and USB charging). Finally, there is a control called Advanced, by selecting On you unlock the calibration controls in the Advanced Settings of the Picture sub-menu.
Finally there is the Picture sub-menu, which offers a series of Viewing Modes including Dynamic, Normal, Cinema, THX Cinema, THX Bright Room, Game, Professional1 and Professional2. This sub-menu also includes all the usual picture controls such as Contrast for adjusting the luminance of the video signal, Brightness for adjusting the black level, Colour control and Sharpness. There is Vivid Colour which boosts the saturation of the colours and C.A.T.S. (Contrast Automatic Tracking System) which is used to adjust picture contrast according to ambient light in the room but this can cause fluctuations in the image and is best left off. There is also a P-NR (Noise Reduction) function that is designed to reduce compression artefacts but we found this control to be of no real benefit so turned it off. Finally there is a Colour Gamut option that gives the user the choice of Remaster (a wider colour gamut) or three industry standards - Rec.709, SMPTE-C and EBU.
The P55VT50B has an extensive selection of calibration controls that have been certified by the isf and include two and ten point White Balance controls, a full six axis Colour Management System and a ten point parametric Gamma control. This Gamma control allows for selection of a specific curve of either 1.8, 2.0, 2.2, 2.4 or 2.6, as well as an S curve. There is also a parametric control for fine tuning the gamma curve at specific IRE points. Last year this control introduced artefacts when used but hopefully things have improved this year.
Then there is a two point white balance control for a basic calibration of the greyscale. However there is also a far more accurate ten point control, which should allow a professional calibrator to fine tune the greyscale at specific IRE points, hopefully resulting in a reference performance.
The last menu is the 3D Settings sub-menu where you will find the 2D to 3D Depth control which allows you to select the 3D image depth on 2D to 3D conversion as well as a 3D Adjustment for controlling the depth on actual 3D material. There is a control called Picture Sequence which reverses the 3D image and an Edge Smoother function that is presumably designed to work with lower resolution side-by-side material. There is also a 3D Detection mode that when on will automatically detect the 3D signal (frame sequential, side-by-side or top and bottom) and display it correctly. Finally there is a control for turning off the 3D Signal Message and there are some Safety Precautions.
We downloaded the VIERA Remote ver.2.0 app for both iOS and Android devices and found the app was easy to connect and simple to use, providing an effective way of controlling and communicating with the P55VT50B. This app allows you to use your tablet or smartphone for free point operation, gamepad operation, browser linkage and content linkage (more on this later). The gamepad operation allows you to use your mobile device as a game controller for games sold on VIERA Connect Market. Free point operation allows you to use the touch screen on your mobile device as a track pad for easier browser operation. The app also meant that you had a keyboard, which made typing things on VIERA Connect much easier and was useful for the web browser. The new Web Browser app now comes already included and we found that it worked quite well and was reasonably fast. You can also use the browser linkage in the VIERA Remote ver.2.0 app to display web pages on your mobile device on the P55VT50B's screen as well. Conversely, you can also display web pages from the P55VT50B on your mobile device.
Besides having a wide choice of apps, the other important elements of an internet platform are that it is easy to access and responsive. In this sense VIERA Connect was a success because it was simple to launch, you just press the Internet button on the remote, and it was very quick to navigate, especially when using the Touch Pad remote. Our only complaints about Panasonic's internet platform are that in order to move from one page to the next, you have to select MORE or BACK, rather than just going directly to the next page and they could include more apps per a page, thus reducing the number of pages you have to navigate. The inclusion of dual core processing certainly made VIERA Connect very responsive and we found navigating the pages and accessing apps was quick and easy. In addition, dual core processing allows you to switch easily between apps using the multitasking user interface.
Finally, whilst most people take using a television guide or on screen channel information for granted, for those that are visually challenged it can obviously be difficult to find out information about their favourite programmes, check what is on later or to set a programme for recording. Panasonic have been working with the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) to provide the 'Voice Guidance' feature that works by announcing on-screen information with synthetic speech and provides clear instructions on how to navigate around the TV menu. The talking feature allows people to choose the level of guidance that suits them, whether beginner or expert, and can be adjusted in terms of speed and volume. This is the first time this feature has been used outside Japan, so Panasonic are to be congratulated for offering it in the UK.
Measured Results Out-of-the-BoxThe P55VT50B comes with a number of picture presets and it should come as no surprise to discover that the THX Cinema mode offered the most accurate out-of-the-box measurements. We found that the Professional modes appeared to use the THX Cinema mode as their starting point and there was no discernible difference between the three modes. We therefore decided to use the THX Cinema mode for these initial measurements and the only additional calibration that we did was to correctly set the Brightness, Contrast and Sharpness controls using freely available test patterns.
As the above graph shows, the out-of-the-box Greyscale performance wasn't quite as incredible as the measurements that Mark got on the P50VT50B but they are still excellent for a pre-calibrated picture mode. The Gamma is measuring very close to the target of 2.2, with only a slight drop down around 70 IRE. This tiny increase in the brightness of the image can be seen on the Gamma Luminance graph, at around the same area of the curve. The RGB Tracking is also very good, with blue tracking at the target and green tracking just above and red tracking just below. The resulting DeltaEs(errors) are all under five, which means that these errors are on the border of what is perceptible to the human eye. However when viewing a stair step greyscale pattern, some slight discolouration could be seen, especially below 80-100 IRE. The inclusion of a ten point White Balance control means that a reference Greyscale should be easy to achieve.
As the CIE Chart above shows, the Colour Gamut accuracy was equally as good and the overall errors were all below three, which is the limit of human perception. In terms of Luminance, which is the most important element of colour, the errors were all negligible and in terms of the Colour there was some over saturation in green and some under saturation in red. There were also some small errors in Hue, especially with red and to a lesser extent green. This also resulted in an error in the hue of yellow, which is a combination of red and green. However, overall these errors were reasonably small and should be very easy to correct with the six axis Colour Management System (CMS).
Calibrated ResultsFor these measurements, we chose one of the Professional modes and selected the Rec.709 Colour Gamut and a Gamma of 2.2. We the made sure that all the unwanted features were turned off and we set the Brightness, Contrast and Sharpness controls correctly. We were then ready to use the more advanced calibration controls to hopefully bring the P55VT50B into line with industry standards.
Well no complaints here, the overall performance is nothing short of reference. The selection of a Gamma of 2.2 delivered a measurement very close to that target and we were able to use a few clicks on the parametric control to bring the curve exactly in line with our target. Last year we found that using the 10 point Gamma controls could introduce unwanted artefacts but there appeared to be no such issues this year. The ten point White Balance control meant that we could fine tune the RGB Tracking and the resulting greyscale is essentially perfect, with errors that are all less than one.
The accuracy of the colour gamut was improved by the reference greyscale, with white now measuring exactly at D65. The CMS allows for control of the Luminance, Colour and Hue of the three primary colours (red, green and blue) and the three secondary colours (cyan, magenta and yellow) and as a result we were able to fine tune the colour accuracy to a reference standard. The overall errors are now all less than one and the errors in all the other categories are also less than one, with the exception of a tiny amount of under saturation in the colour of magenta. However this is an absolutely fantastic performance and this is simply one of the most accurate pictures we have measured.
Video ProcessingThe performance of the P55VT50B in the video processing tests was excellent and using both the PAL and NTSC HQV benchmark discs the detail and resolution test was reproduced correctly, with the P55VT50B scaling the full 576i and 480i images without any loss of detail or unwanted ringing. The P55VT50B also scored very highly in the jaggies tests on both discs as well as performing very well on the diagonal interpolation test, with two of the three moving bars appearing smooth and only the bottom most extreme bar showing very slight jaggies. The P55VT50B also had no problems in resolving all the fine brickwork in the detail tests on both the PAL and NTSC discs, as well as correctly displaying the waving flag footage. Panasonic have finally managed to produce TVs that correctly detect both 3:2 (NTSC - USA/Japan) and 2:2 (PAL - European) film cadence, as long as the Clear Cinema function is turned on. The P55VT50B also performed well when displaying film material mixed with scrolling video text and correctly displayed the words without blurring or shredding.
Using both the HQV Blu-ray and the Spears and Munsil Blu-ray we were able to check the high definition performance of the P55VT50B. We set our Blu-ray player set to output 1080i the P55VT50B correctly deinterlaced and displayed both the video and film resolution tests provided 16:9 Overscan was set to off in the Advanced Picture settings. The P55VT50B also showed very good scaling and filtering performance as well as extremely impressive resolution enhancement capabilities. When it came to 1080p24 content, the P55VT50B delivered incredibly smooth movement and even on the torturous moving wedge tests on the Spears and Munsil disc were reproduced with little sign of moire or flicker. In both the THX and Professional modes the P55VT50B was comfortably capable of hitting reference white and, even more impressively, was able to show 1% black simultaneously. This resulted in a truly impressive dynamic range that delivered an excellent contrast ratio that was free of any clipping, which was evidenced by the six concentric squares in the white, red, green and blue patterns on the Spears and Munsil test disc all being visible simultaneously.
The P55VT50B could also handle a full luma and chroma bandwidth and delivered excellent resolution for both. Thanks to the new 1080p Pure Direct mode, the P55VT50B is capable of displaying a full 4:4:4 signal instead of chroma sub-sampling back down to 4:2:0. In theory this should mean a slightly enhanced chromatic resolution and more detailed images, provided that the source is sending it correctly. In reality, whilst we could perhaps see the tiniest differences when the mode was engaged, it didn’t really seem to make any practical difference for Blu-ray where the information on the disc is only 4:2:0 in the first place. However, it certainly shouldn't cause any harm to leave the 1080p Pure Direct mode on and benefit from any possible improvements, especially if your using the P55VT50B with one of Panasonic's latest Blu-ray players.
We discuss motion handling in more detail in the picture quality sections but overall the motion handling on the P55VT50B was excellent and using the FPD Benchmark disc, the full 1080 lines of resolution were visible on the moving tests. The P55VT50 comes with Intelligent Frame Creation, which is a frame interpolation feature that offers a choice of Off/Min/Mid/Max. The addition of a Min setting is new this year and we found that it had little to no affect in testing, with the motion just appearing slightly clearer on the FPD Benchmark disc with no obvious artefacts being introduced. With the Mid and Max settings the impact was much more pronounced and whilst you could use IFC in conjunction with fast paced and video based sporting material, it should never be used with film based content. For exactly the same reasons you need to ensure that the 24p Smooth Film function is also turned off when watching 24p material. The reality is that with Blu-ray content encoded at 24p, the P55VT50B didn't need any additional processing and the results looked spectacular.
Gaming Performance We measured an input lag of 50ms with the P55VT50B in Game mode, which is comparable to the 46ms measurement that Mark took on the P42GT50B using his more accurate input lag tester. It would also suggest that some of our earlier measurements, which were taken with the old method, might be too low. Whilst 46-50ms is a little high for the serious gamer, it is certainly good enough for most people and when gaming we were never really aware of any lag. Plasma technology has the trait of showing up the low motion deficiencies inherent with games running under 60 frames per second natively and the VT50 was no exception but it never bothered us. Of course, given the superb images that the P55VT50B produces it would be a waste just to use it for gaming and there are probably other displays that are better suited and cheaper for the hard core gamer.
Energy ConsumptionDespite that fact that plasma tends to use more energy than LCD due to the inherent nature of the technology, Panasonic have taken great strides in making their plasmas as efficient as possible. In fact this year they decided that since their plasmas were already delivering an excellent degree of efficiency, they would use any energy savings to boost the brightness of the 2012 models. The P55VT50B measured an average calibrated draw of about 280W in Professional mode for 2D viewing and for 3D material it drew around 330W in THX 3D mode. In standby, the P55VT50B was drawing less than 0.5W, so overall the P55VT50B is very efficient considering its screen size.
2D Picture Quality
Panasonic have been refining their plasma technology in the last year and the P55VT50B incorporates the new 2500Hz Focused Field Drive which uses an ultra-fast panel response time of 1/2500th of a second from which the technology gets its name. This allows for a much reduced pixel address time, compared to previous Panasonic plasmas, and a more even distribution of light through the sub-field phases, which results in cleaner and sharper looking motion. In conjunction with improved panel design and better energy efficiency, the P55VT50B also delivers deeper blacks and a brighter image, as well as the ability to produce more gradations in darker portions of the picture. Panasonic claim an effective 24,576 equivalent steps of gradation, which is four times that of the previous generations, so it should result in some benefits to shadow detail.
As anyone who has read Mark's review of the P50VT50B will know, these TVs are capable of the kind of inky blacks that Panasonic's competitors can only dream about. The P55VT50B was no exception and the blacks were so deep, in fact, that we found it difficult to get a reliably accurate reading with a full screen black pattern. We did however manage to measure it at 0.009 cd/m2 on an ANSI checkerboard pattern, with Cinema, THX and Pro modes. However, it’s no good producing a panel with incredible blacks if the details near black are swallowed up by them but the VT50 also showed incredible levels of shadow detail and distinction in darker scenes. There has been a lot of talk about the brightness of the VT50 and all the other Panasonic TVs for that matter, but we certainly had no problems with brightness on the P55VT50B. Yes we would like to see a bit more brightness available in the professional modes but at around 85 cd/m2 they were certainly bright enough for us and were getting 80 cd/m2 on the ANSI checkerboard pattern. If you need a brighter image during the day, the THX Cinema mode delivered around 95 cd/m2 and THX Bright Room could put out a blistering 150 cd/m2.
Of course, measurements aren't everything and when watching familiar material in a completely dark room, both the blacks, brightness and overall dynamic range were equally as impressive. In a side-by-side comparison of the P55VT50B and our previous reference TV - the Pioneer Kuro - there really was little to differentiate them. The Panasonic had a cleaner image, with less PWM noise but the Kuro had less dynamic false contouring. However in terms of blacks levels and contrast, the two displays looked almost identical. Of course there are one or two big differences, the Kuro isn't 3D capable, nor does it have any Smart TV features. Times have moved on and, image quality aside, the Kuro is beginning to look like what it is, a three year old TV that you can't buy anymore.
Are the images produced by the P55VT50VB absolutely perfect? No, of course not, but then no consumer electronics product is ever going to be perfect and even plasma has limitations to the technology. As far as these limitations are concerned, we had no problems with image retention or flicker and whilst there was still some dynamic false contouring, it was only visible occasionally. We didn't see any line bleed, nor did we experience any colour flashes although people who are susceptible to rainbows might. We also didn't have any problems with screen uniformity or green blobs and as far as brightness pops and floating blacks are concerned, these appear to be a thing of the past. Whilst could still occasionally see evidence of the 50Hz bug, we were generally never aware of it and it certainly didn't detract from our enjoyment of the wonderful images being produced by the P55VT50B.
3D Picture Quality
Thanks to the larger screen size of 55", the P55VT50B could deliver an incredibly immersive 3D experience was largely free of crosstalk which meant we never found ourselves being drawn out of the movie. There were very occasional instances but you really had to look for them and they were never distracting. The display was able to handle fast movement without ghosting or artefacts which was especially obvious when playing fast moving 3D games. The 3D images produced by the P55VT50B were excellent, with well defined depth and a sense of solidity to the objects on screen. Whether the 3D content was provided by a frame sequential Blu-ray, a side-by-side TV broadcast or a 3D game, the P55VT50B was able to detect and correctly display the 3D images. Ultimately, whatever the 3D content, the P55VT50B is another winner from Panasonic that can deliver a wonderfully engaging 3D experience.
- Reference black levels
- Dynamic range is equally as impressive
- Lack of PWM noise and clean looking images
- Excellent out-of-the-box greyscale
- Reference greyscale after calibration
- Excellent out-of-the-box colour gamut
- Reference colour gamut after calibration
- Comprehensive calibration controls
- Reference 3D performance
- Excellent video processing
- Incredible motion, especially with Blu-ray
- VIERA Connect is effective and responsive
- THX Cinema and Bright Room modes are effective
- 8 train speakers work well enough
- Built-in WiFi, Freesat HD and Freeview HD
- Well designed menus and remote control
- Attractive design and excellent build quality
- Subtle instances of 50Hz break-up with fast pans
- Occasional dynamic false contouring
- Some dither noise in darker elements of the picture
- Some users may suffer from image flicker
- Professional modes could be brighter
- HDMI inputs are too close to the edge
Panasonic VT50 (TX-P55VT50B) 3D Plasma TV Review
What is there left to say about the VT50 that hasn't already been said? Panasonic have finally delivered on their early promise and produced a TV that genuinely lives up to the hype that has surrounded the manufacturer since the last days of the Kuro.
The P55VT50B retains the glass facia and slick styling that graced last year's VT30 and with its silver trim and solid construction, it certainly looks like the flagship TV that it is. Despite a screen size of 55", the P55VT50B only measures 4cm in depth, which might not be as ultra-thin as many edge lit LED LCDs but is still surprisingly narrow for a TV this big and is achieved without sacrificing image quality. The P55VT50B comes with just about every feature a modern TV can possess and also includes two pairs of RF active shutter glasses and an additional touch pad remote control.
In performance terms the P55VT50B is peerless, with the kind of inky blacks that other manufacturers can only dream about. This deep black base delivers a truly impressive dynamic range and the resulting images are breath-taking. The inclusion of a comprehensive set of calibration controls means that the already excellent out-of-the-box performance can be improved to deliver absolutely reference measurements. The video processing is also excellent, passing all our tests and delivering fantastic standard definition images and some wonderful high definition pictures, especially from Blu-ray.
As a result of the incredibly accurate picture, amazing dynamic range and the excellent video processing, the resulting 2D images were spectacular. The P55VT50B could deliver beautiful images from any source but when fed a 1080p/24 Blu-ray the results were incredible, with a staggering level of detail from a picture that was clean and largely free of PWM noise. The motion handling was also excellent, especially on Blu-ray content, where images had a smooth film-like quality that was free from judder.
Are the images produced by the P55VT50VB absolutely perfect? No, of course not but then no consumer electronics product is ever going to be perfect and even plasma has limitations to the technology. As far as these limitations are concerned, we had no problems with image retention or flicker and whilst there was still some dynamic false contouring, it was only visible occasionally. We didn't see any line bleed, nor did we experience any colour flashes although people who are susceptible to rainbows might. Whilst we could still occasionally see evidence of the 50Hz bug, we were generally never aware of it and it certainly didn't detract from our enjoyment of the wonderful images being produced by the P55VT50B.
The 3D images produced by the P55VT50B were excellent, with well defined depth and a sense of solidity to the objects on screen. Whether the 3D content was provided by a frame sequential Blu-ray, a side-by-side TV broadcast or a 3D game, the P55VT50B was able to detect and correctly display the 3D images. There is a dedicated 3D menu for users to customise their 3D experience and the 3D picture modes can be calibrated separately from the 2D modes, although THX seemed to offer the best compromise in 3D. Overall, when it comes to native 3D content, the P55VT50B shows that Panasonic are still at the forefront of delivering the most engaging 3D experience.
The P55VT50B is DLNA certified which means it can connect with other such devices and stream content over your home network. You can also access content via USB or SD card and from mobile devices like smartphones and tablets. The P55VT50B has dual core processing which makes VIERA Connect far more responsive than previously. We also tried out the VIERA Remote app which was easy to connect and simple to use, providing an effective way of controlling and communicating with the P55VT50B. Panasonic's new 'swiping' feature makes it easy to send content from your tablet or smartphone to the P55VT50B or vice versa - allowing you to continue watching TV on your tablet or smartphone, even when the TV itself is turned off. Finally, the P55VT50B had a measured input lag of 50ms in Game mode and is very energy efficient of a plasma of this size.
The P55VT50B is a fantastic display that delivers the kind of performance that enthusiasts are looking for, without the need to resort to expensive professional monitors or second hand TVs with none of today's modern features. Panasonic have set the bar high this year and the VT50 thoroughly deserves its reference status.
3D Picture Quality
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